Last week saw a return to an in-person party MIT Sloan CIO Symposium an event. As usual, there were a slew of ideas from senior IT executives – some related to ongoing trends, some to new or at least accelerated ones.
Here are four discussions that came out of the mostly panel-focused format.
1. How to become cyber-resilient
There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about preventing cyberattacks. But this framing may be wrong, or at least too narrow. Professor Stuart Madnick, co-founder of Cybersecurity at MIT Sloan (CAMS), went so far as to say that “prevention is futile”, given, for example, that supply chain attacks such as Log4j are “no-click vulnerabilities”. (That’s not to say that security scans and other processes can’t reduce the number of vulnerabilities, but you shouldn’t expect to find them all.)
Esmond Kane, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Health Care Steward, stressed the importance of planning. “The core concept around resilience is brewing,” he said, adding, “No plan will survive first contact.” But planning and thinking about possible attacks and response procedures is helpful, although you may have to adapt on the fly.
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Kane also pointed out that people are the weakest link, even if they deliberately don’t do anything malicious. He found it to be a weakness of the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity because it “did not include any real focus on safety education”.
It is also important to validate your plans. Fred Cohn, Director, Head of Cybersecurity and Digital Risks, Schneider-Electric, suggests using external security agencies to get an objective overview of your plans and how they are progressing. Schneider Electric, which sells energy and automation solutions, created a services branch in response to customer requests to help secure their environments.
2. Dealing with talent shortages
People, or rather the lack of them, was the subject of another panel. This is hardly surprising; skills and/or talent shortages are listed as barriers in many of the surveys we conduct at Red Hat, such as the Global Technology Outlook 2022. But what can we do about it? The main challenge faced by the panelists was not so much “The Great Resignation”, as it is called, but rather the need for new skills to deal with technologies such as machine learning, cloud and containers.
The panel focused on two points in particular: The first was to expand the talent pool they draw from. For example, Melissa Swift, US&C Transformation Solutions Manager, Merciernoted that “60% of jobs in the United States require a degree…and 60% shouldn’t.”
Panelists also pointed out that companies tend to overlook continuing education, even at the level of light certificates or badges to learn a new technology or product. And training budgets are often the first to disappear in a downturn. However, there was broad agreement that while job mobility can make it more difficult to justify investments in education, it is something companies need to do, as opposed to hiring a outside person with the exact qualifications for a vacancy.
[ Learn how CIOs are speeding toward goals while preventing employee burnout in this report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services: Maintaining Momentum on Digital Transformation ]
3. Cloud challenges and opportunities
Over time, it’s been interesting to see the cloud discussions evolve at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium and elsewhere. Subhadaa Reddimasi, SVP, Application Modernization and Cloud Adoption Lead, Wells Fargo Bank, said that “the cloud, six or seven years ago, was about cost”. Now it’s more about “the capacity and scale to deliver experiences to the customer.” This mirrors the results we’ve seen in surveys such as The State of Enterprise Open Source 2022.
And rather than a bottom-up or developer-led IT initiative, the cloud today is more strategic. Steve Van Kuiken, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Companysaid, “Most of the value will be gained through innovation and innovation-driven growth.
However, the strategic nature of hybrid cloud environments has various implications. Reddimasi points out that you “should think about strategy from the start.” It also means that the cloud is no longer just an IT project loosely connected to the rest of the business.
CIOs need to help the CEO and board understand the cloud and its potential. CIOs implicitly assume a level of understanding that CEOs may not have.
Cathy Horst Forsyth, Founder and Managing Partner, Strongbow Consulting Group, notes that “technology and business partnerships to drive change do not come naturally”. You have politics and organizational inertia.
From Kuiken’s perspective, “the number one reason cloud transformations fail is because they don’t have CEO or board support.” They see the cloud as a technological problem to be solved by IT. CIOs “must help the CEO and board understand the cloud and its potential. CIOs implicitly assume a level of understanding that CEOs may not have. And, he adds, the discussion may not be framed in terms that CEOs can understand.
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This is a common theme that has been explored in previous symposia – the need for the IOC to increasingly be a partner of the CEO. He also highlights the growing importance of boards of directors to have technological expertise.
4. Technology trends to watch
Panelists were generally optimistic or at least interested not only in AI/ML, but also in more emerging trends such as metaverse, blockchain and quantum computing.
For Manoj Kumbhat, Global Chief Information Officer, Kimberly Clark, it’s about “digitally engaging with consumers in a personalized way”. He is also interested in quantum as a way to “drive manufacturing efficiency and reduce waste”.
However, there are obstacles. Again, skills are part of it. Suneet Dua, Director of Product and Technology Growth, PwC US, observed that we are “not moving fast enough in human skills training. The digital divide is a real problem. He also noted that there are still a lot of process frictions in companies. And while CIOs are talking about it, only about 25% have done something about it.
[ Learn how leaders are embracing enterprise-wide IT automation: Taking the lead on IT Automation. ]